Belfast Telegraph

Callacher says Blues aren't feeling pressure as title tilt hits fever pitch

Ballymena Utd 0 Linfield 1

By Alex Mills

Battling Linfield may have maintained their title challenge at the Ballymena Showgrounds on Saturday, but defender Jimmy Callacher insists the Danske Bank Premiership is still Crusaders' to lose.

Callacher bagged his eighth goal of the season as David Healy's boys kept the heat on the reigning champions. However, it wasn't until Andy Waterworth rammed in a killer second just minutes before the finish that the big army of visiting fans could afford to breathe easily.

It's now down to a battle of nerves over the final three games, with the Blues due to face Glenavon tomorrow night while, across the city at Seaview, the Crues will host Coleraine.

"Make no bones about it, it's in their hands," said Callacher. "They can only lose it - we can't lose it. The pressure is all on them. We just have to see how things go over the next few weeks.

"We need to win our last three games to give ourselves any chance it all. If we win all three and don't win the league, the stats don't lie - the best team wins the league.

"The bottom line is, we've (the players) come to Linfield to win trophies and we now are very close. Our priority now is to beat Glenavon on Tuesday night to keep on the pressure.

"We were nine points behind after we drew with Portadown, so to close the gap to one point going into the last three matches is a testament to our determination and the will to win. We'll see where it takes us.

"But make no mistake about it, if they slip up, we'll be ready. In saying that, I'd rather be in their position than the one we are in. All we can do is to try and take three points from every game."

Saturday's result meant that Linfield have not conceded a goal in 10 of their last 15 outings, which is quite a staggering achievement.

Callacher added: "It's a great record, but it will count for nothing if we don't win the league. I remember Roy Coyle use to tell us that strikers will win you games, but the defence will win you titles.

"It's a thing we always look for, in terms of the back four. We always want a clean sheet. When that happens, we can say we are doing our jobs properly. Roy (Carroll) has been a good addition to the squad. He talks us through games and he makes big saves as we've seen in recent weeks."

Callacher was quick to react after both Mark Haughey and Andy Waterworth made claims of getting a final touch to put his header over the line for the Blues' opener.

"The ball was already over the line. Andy (Waterworth) said to me their player tried to clear it, but the ball was already in, that's why I ran to celebrate," he explained.

"It was the only time that Kyle Owens was beaten in the air all day - and they are trying to take the goal off me! No, it was my goal, I'm claiming it."

United chief David Jeffrey said: "I was pleased with the performance, but disappointed with the result.

"Linfield had the majority of the chances and we knew that would be the case."

Ballymena: Allen, Owens, Flynn, Jenkins, Ervin, Millar, McKinney, McMurray, McCaffrey (McCloskey, 80 mins) , Kerr, Loughran (Henderson, 85 mins). Unused subs: McCauley, Gage, Lowry.

Linfield: Carroll, Casement, Haughey, Callacher, M Clarke, Smyth, Lowry, Mulgrew, Quinn, Burns, Waterworth. Unused subs: Carson, Gaynor, Strain, Ward, Millar

Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)

Man of the match: Stephen Lowry

Match rating: 7/10

Results Section A: Ballymena United 0 Linfield 2; Cliftonville 2 Crusaders 3; Coleraine 1 Glenavon 1; Section B: Carrick Rangers 2 Ards 2; Dungannon Swifts 2 Glentoran 1; Portadown 1 Ballinamallard United 0 Fixtures to come Tomorrow (7.45pm): Section A: Ballymena United v Cliftonville, Crusaders v Coleraine, Linfield v Glenavon; Section B: Ards v Portadown, Ballinamallard United v Dungannon Swifts, Carrick Rangers v Glentoran

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